Honda are poised to announce that they will start supplying engines to Formula One strugglers Sauber, but whether or not they will become a second customer team remains to be seen as cracks continue to open up in the relationship with McLaren.
It’s understood that talks took place in Australia between Sauber and Honda, and although no announcement was made in Melbourne, a decision over a new partnership could be made before the end of next month.
Whether or not Sauber choose to make the switch from Ferrari power to Honda during the season remains to be seen, but they are already operating at a hindrance due to running the 2016 version of the Prancing Horse.
The Swiss team, whose striking 2017 car is also notable for its lack of major sponsorship, managed a 12th-place finish through replacement driver Antonio Giovinazzi in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, with the Italian standing in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein. It was expected that the German will return in time to compete at next weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, but Ferrari today confirmed that they have released Giovinazzi once again in case Sauber need to call on the manufacturers’ reserve driver.
While his debut drive from 16th to 12th certainly impressed, Sauber will be desperate to get points on the board as soon as possible. The team managed to secure tenth in the Constructors’ Championship last season at the penultimate race in Brazil, though with Manor F1 no longer on the grid, Sauber are left fighting to move off the back of the pack.
One of those teams they will hope to overtake is McLaren-Honda, and the relationship between the two motorsport giants continues to be strained at best. Fernando Alonso has been openly critical of the lack of power coming from the Honda engine, and after two disappointing years together, the McLaren of 2017 appears to have taken a step backwards rather than forwards.
Alonso looked to be working miracles last Sunday as he clung on to the final points-paying position of tenth, but the Spaniard was forced to retire following a suspension failure, while rookie teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finished last after suffering from a number of technical issues.
McLaren are already looking into the possibility of returning to Mercedes power if Honda do not show signs of improvement, and the admission this week by former grand prix winner Mark Webber that he would not be surprised if Alonso left McLaren this season due to their underperformance.